Long-term investments in the classroom


Long-term investments in the classroom

Theo Krynauw started a project in Hermanus with one goal: to offer young residents with enough drive the chance to escape the depressing poverty of township life. TINUS HORN tells more.


“IT'S not Monaco in Africa. It's Hermanus in Africa," says Theo Krynauw, and the only way to see it differently is to keep yourself blind.

The piece of Africa that Theo is talking about is not an imagined paradise where whales perform tricks to please overseas tourists who sip fine wines. The Overberg is a microcosm of the country, where the gap between rich and poor is widening at an alarming rate.

There are idyllic blue flag beaches — which means the water has been officially measured and found clean — and stately houses with sea views which anywhere in the world would be described as abundant, especially on the east side of town, quite a distance beyond Zwelihle township when coming from Cape Town.

The location is no accident. In Zwelihle, no one is going to imagine they are in Paradise. You look in vain among the pamphlets that the town distributes to tourists for any sign of this “other Hermanus". Nearly 30,000 people live here, squeezed into a space smaller than the town's golf course.

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Theo is a founding member of the Overstrand Learning Hub (OLH), a project with the ultimate goal of making Hermanus a student town in miniature and opening a way out of the depressing poverty of township life to young residents with enough drive.

Here, students receive the help of external funding to receive world-class education. The people who run OLH have chosen to see the town as it is.

I have known Theo for almost 10 years. It's hard not to know or at least know about him if you stay in these parts for long. First of all, he is close to the old-fashioned seven-foot tall, and then he flies around town in his Ford Figo, which is bright pink, the colour of the insurance company that sponsors it.

During that time, he and Angie, his wife and partner in Sparklekids, another non-profit organisation, have helped hundreds of township children study elsewhere. In the vast majority of cases, with great success, specifically in fields of study that secure them employment.

Accommodation costs were high, limiting student numbers. On a “dark, stormy night", according to Theo's account, he and Angie visited Prof John de Gruchy, an internationally recognised theologian, with an idea with which they believed he could help: that a mini-campus be created in Hermanus, from where students could undertake tertiary distance education with the help of tutors. It would no longer be necessary for them to leave town.

De Gruchy was enthusiastic, to put it mildly. They dreamed together that in the future, there would even be provision for students from surrounding areas.

They stepped in to make it happen.

It wouldn't be cheap, and one of the founding principles of OLH (and Sparklekids) is not asking anyone for money. “People see us doing what we say. The money goes straight to the students for fees and other needs. They want to be a part of it."

One such benefactor is Jack Cockwell, a developer from Brookfield, Toronto, and the owner of OLH's main building, the “hub" — an architectural gem on the edge of the town centre, formerly a synagogue.

He recently extended OLH's right to use it for a further 20 years and undertook to fund the building's expansion.

Theo says: “We had 54 students and 30 tutors last year. Now, there are over a hundred students and the building has become too small. With the additions, we can take in even more students in the future."

Furthermore, Cockwell made Can$60,000 (about R840,000) available to support deserving students into their fourth year.

It is impossible to summarise the entire project here. In short, it cooperates with FinGlobal, an international financial service provider under the Bidvest banner, with Ryno Viljoen at the helm.

The curriculum is that of Stadio, which is recognised in South Africa and worldwide. Curro is connected to it, among other things.

Chris Vorster, chief executive officer of Stadio, is highly impressed by OLH's operations and achievements and has announced that this institution will also offer two scholarships. The details have yet to be worked out.

Theo says Dr Nici Rousseau is at the head and is the engine that drives OLH. She decided to focus the courses offered entirely on education, among other things.

“Students are carefully selected. If they do not have a passion for education, OLH is not the right place for them," says Theo. “It's also practically doable. We have tutors — all volunteers — who cover every subject.” Such a thing would not be possible with something like, say, economics or engineering.

“Nici does the work from her heart. She knows the teachers trained here are committed to standing in a classroom for decades and giving children the foundation to guide them throughout their education."

♦ VWB ♦

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